5 Useful Life Lessons My Unfriendly Cat Has (Reluctantly) Taught Me

“And what, may I ask, are you staring at?”

I’m a self-confessed cat lady — cats have always been part of my life and that won’t ever change. A few years ago I re-homed a pair of ginger monsters (no exaggeration, they’re around 8 kgs each) and two summers ago, we decided to grow the family by adopting a pair of kittens from a local animal charity.

The Warning

We were warned upfront that the kittens had not received the best start in life and had received almost no human interaction which meant they would not be cute and cuddly ‘lap cats’ and would require a huge amount of patience. Great. One of the more obvious qualities I was born without. Ho hum, I like a challenge…

Nobody else had shown any interest in them and they were absolutely gorgeous so ignoring the warning and knowing their fate would become bleaker with each passing day (the older a cat is, the harder it is to re-home, especially those that don’t interact), 24 hours later and they were in their new home with us.

Patience is a virtue — yeah, right

Well almost two years have now passed and it would be fair to say the journey has not been an easy one. The tabby cat, Jack, has learned to accept being touched by human hands although he remains terrified of strangers. He refuses to acknowledge his name (he’s not deaf, he just doesn’t like it. Miraculously, he answers to his name when prawns are on offer), rarely purrs or miaows and is definitely not a lap cat. He is, however, the success story.

His brother, Timothy, is one of the most handsome cats ever. I may be biased but I don’t care. I could write a whole post on how black/ black and white cats are unfairly treated but I’ll save that for another day. Timothy remains wholly untouchable. His purr machine didn’t come with batteries and he suffers some form of dysfunctional eating which means he won’t eat if you’re around. And it’s hard not to be when you’re the one doing the feeding.

He knows his name but only to throw you the most disgusted of looks. Should you manage that rarest of feats — to stroke him — you may be confident that the next 20 minutes will be spent on the meticulous grooming required to remove the evil human stench lest it poison him.

It would be fair to say a pet, he is not. It’s kind of upsetting, frustrating and disappointing all at the same time. But as with all clouds, there is a silver lining. And here, the lining is that my relationship with Timothy regularly gives me a kick up the metaphorical backside with some timely reminders I all too often forget.

5 Life Lessons Reluctantly Shared By My Cat

I do already know these things but it never hurts to remember them. I’m guessing you probably know — and sometimes forget — them too:

  1. Our expectations are all too often based on assumptions, rather than facts.
  2. Food brings people (and cats) together.
  3. Never assume trust will be given, it must be earned.
  4. Relationships are a two-way street and require commitment. If you’re in it only for what you can get, prepare for disappointment.
  5. The best things come to those who wait and time is both a healer and a friend.

These are useful life lessons many of us would benefit from being reminded of more often. We tend to take most, if not all, our relationships for granted and struggle when they don’t work out exactly as planned. But that doesn’t mean we should turn our back on them or stop trying. I’ve been shocked when people in the early days suggested we get rid of or ‘return’ Timothy if he’s so difficult (cat pee on the duvet is not fun and boy, does it stink!).

Except he’s not difficult. He’s scared. He had a tough start in life and he’s a particularly sensitive cat — it’s not a combination that was ever going to win him the prize of ‘Best Pet Ever’. But then, why should it? He never promised to be anything he’s not; we projected our hopes and expectations on to him. Whose fault is that? He’s exactly the cat he was always intended to be. Do I give him back because I’m ‘disappointed’? Would the same people advocating that I do so, allow me to give my child away if they turned out not to be what I was hoping for?

The Confession

Ok, I confess, Timothy isn’t the pet I’d been hoping for. But I love him to bits. He doesn’t pretend to be anything he is not. And I made a promise and commitment that I would look after him and love him and care for him for the rest of his life. That promise isn’t contingent on whether he loves me back. Sure, if I’m lucky, with time and patience he will come to accept me as a positive in his world and perhaps we can become friends. But if not, that’s ok too, I’ll still be happy that I gave the relationship my very best efforts. It’s the least I can do for us both.

I don’t deny that I hope that one day, Timothy will change. But perhaps I’m the one that needs to change. After all, there is nothing wrong with him. He accepts that I am a daily annoyance in his life but one to be tolerated. Perhaps I need to accept that he is simply a cat that dislikes being touched.

We all have a Timothy or two in our lives; the relationship that isn’t quite the one we were hoping it would be. I guess the question is, do you resent it or choose to accept it? Were your expectations fair and reasonable or were they based on misplaced assumptions?

And if relationships occasionally crop up as an elephant in your mirror, I strongly suggest you hanging out with a cat* or two. They have more to teach than you think.

*other animals are available

Originally published at www.annetteearl.com on May 25, 2017.